UNUM festival wrapped up just over a week and was a huge milestone for the entire music community. The first REAL and LEGAL festival since the pandemic kicked off. It was a parallel universe where Covid didn’t exist. Masks weren’t in sight. Everyone held their breath in the days leading up to the festival and many thought it would not even go ahead. But with lowering cases and high percentage vaccinated, the Albanian government were in full support of UNUM and worked closely to ensure the festival could go ahead safely. 14,000 people headed to the beach of Shëngjin to immerse themselves into music with sets from Sven Vath, Ben Klock, Ricardo Villalobos, Mathew Jonson, Raresh, Priku, Cap, Alci and more.
Rapid testing was originally planned to be at the entrance of the festival, but with more good news coming in with lowered number of cases and more vaccinations in Albania, testing was not necessary in the end. Allowing the festival to feel even more normal, it was a breath of fresh air to see it a thing of the past. From the start of the events organization, the Albanian government have been big supporters, working with the festival to ensure it could go on. In fact, across Albania all Covid restrictions were dropped on June 1st, just days leading up to the festival. Masks were no longer needed indoors and testing was no longer necessary. A far off dream for many of us still! Everyone entering Albania from other countries still needed a negative PCR test to ensure international attendees were not bringing in various Covid strains. Testing was also available at the hotels for anyone that still needed it as well.
When you stepped into the festival the energy was unmatched. An UNUM photographer, Annemarie, described it as “very surreal and very emotional”. Describing the event, she says, “I couldn’t believe I could hug people again. I was reunited with friends I hadn’t seen for two years. Everyone was so relived and couldn’t stop dancing. The music was good, the atmosphere was good. Not even the bit of rain was a problem.” People hugged without fear, danced with strangers, and made friends; the connections that were longingly missed the last 15 months. With everyone just happy to be there and share this communal experience in getting lost for a few days.
17% of Albania have had their 1st dose of vaccine and 11% has their 2nd as well. UNUM festival also confirmed with us they were following a strict protocol and 100% of their staff were fully vaccinated. Greg O’Halloran, the head organizer for UNUM told MixMag that “This isn’t just us going ahead without understanding the situation” (MixMag.com). Gloves and masks were mandatory for cleaners and the toilets were regularly disinfected. Let’s be honest, it was probably the cleanest festival there ever was. Say goodbye to the festival toilet!
As the festival wrapped up after five days of pure bliss, everyone returned to their home countries. From countries all over Europe, this required them to take another PCR test. As the record shows, there have been no recorded positive cases and no outbreaks from this festival and we sure hope it stays this way. UNUM festival, despite only being in their second year running, has hit headlines, writing the blueprint for future festivals. This wasn’t another test event, this was normality!
The director of the music festival, Kushtrim Sahiti said “In the wake of one of the worse years for the music industry, UNUM Festival came as ship of hope in the sea of don’t and do’s for Festivals and events of this size. It was a huge success and we’re exhausted but glad that we managed to give music back to the people. And even better, it sure was hella good music!” Although many criticized that the festival went ahead too early, the guests I spoke with couldn’t disagree more believing this is the roadmap set out for more festivals to fall in line. Artists were happy to finally play in front of a crowd again and guests were happy to return back to the dance floor.
Keep your eyes peeled for UNUM 2022 announcement as it has officially become one of the most sought after festivals out there!
Words by Gabrielle Runzer